Louisiana Conference Assesses Next Steps In Consultation With UMCOR
By Susan J. Meister*
September 18, 2008—On September 16, less than two weeks after touring areas damaged by the wind and water from Hurricane Gustav, Louisiana leadership was in the southwestern part of the conference to assess the impact of extensive flooding from Hurricane Ike, and to schedule meetings with UMCOR personnel to plan the next steps in the conference response.
Four full days after Ike made landfall on September 13, areas of Cameron Parish were barely accessible. Bishop William W. Hutchinson, Provost Don Cottrill, and Disaster Response Director Darryl Tate drove to Hackberry down state route 27, navigating water over the roadway. Access to other areas of the Parish nearer the coast were restricted, which prevented the group from a close-up assessment of newly-built Wakefield UMC, Cameron, said to be "nearly destroyed."
The leadership team toured the area after a meeting with the Lake Charles District clergy at First UMC, Lake Charles. "We wanted to be clear on the status of our property," said Cottrill. "We also wanted to be sure that our pastors understand the need for I&R (information and referral) from their communities. And, of course, we wanted to assure them of our ongoing support."
The flooding from Ike is said to be as bad or worse in some areas than the flooding from Hurricane Rita, a major 2005 hurricane that severely impacted east Texas and southwest Louisiana. As a result of the new storm, Tate said the conference structure for response will be reassessed in cooperation with UMCOR, building on the Katrina/ Rita organization already in place.
Cathy Earl, UMCOR executive for US disaster response, is expected to travel to the conference next week to continue meetings and tours of coastal parishes. "UMCOR will continue to support the Louisiana Conference as they reach out with hospitality and compassion to people who have been hurt by these new storms," she said.
Gustav and Ike Bring Back-to-Back Woes
Hurricane Gustav, a category 2 storm, made landfall near Cocodrie, Louisiana (south of Houma) on September 1. The storm continued on a northwest path through the state, spreading wind and water damage. On September 13, Ike made landfall near Galveston, Texas. Southwest Louisiana was in the east quadrant of the storm, and experienced extensive flooding and storm surge. Some communities have been affected by both storms.
"We want to encourage our pastors to take a lead in reaching the people," explained Darryl Tate. "We need to seek out the people who need help so that we can be aware of the needs. Then we will have the data we need to write for grants to help in recovery."
UMCOR consultants Gordon Knuckey and Larry Powell recently led training sessions on Information and Referral in Baton Rouge and Lafayette. Additional trainings will be held shortly in Alexandria and Lake Charles.
"People are Tired"
Steven Spurlock, Lake Charles District Superintendent, says that the universal feeling in the Lake Charles community is weariness. "People are tired," he said. The sheriff's deputy on state route 27 appreciated the prayers offered by the conference team. "Two hurricanes in three years," he sighed. "I'm not doing so well."
Cottrill shared an image on his phone with his colleagues as they were driving north from Hackberry after their tour - a meteorological map showing no Atlantic storm activity. "Isn't that a wonderful sight?" he smiled.
How to Help
Congregations and individuals are encouraged to collect items for flood buckets to replenish the supply at UMCOR Sager Brown, which has been shipping large numbers of buckets throughout the region. A list of items in buckets is at the UMCOR web site. Congregations and individuals are urged to send completed buckets, bulk materials or a contribution to purchase supplies. A list of the contents can be found here. A shipment of buckets is scheduled to arrive at Abbeville UMC for distribution to clients, some who were ready to have their cases on Rita closed.
Please help UMCOR respond to people affected by Hurricanes Ike. Your gift to UMCOR Advance #3019695, Hurricanes 2008, helps us provide immediate on-the-ground support to volunteers, annual conferences and interfaith response efforts.
Contact your Jurisdictional Volunteer in Mission Coordinator for information about volunteering. We anticipate that it will be some weeks before the area is secured and housing set up for general volunteers.
*Meister is UMCOR's Domestic Disaster Response Correspondent